From 1909 to 1916 thousands of hobos joined the Industrial Workers of the World and participated in major fights for free speech in several dozen cities in the American west. During this period, the union organized over two dozen confrontations with municipal authorities to challenge repressive speaking laws which they considered to be de facto injunctions against public organizing. The myriad tactics involved in the free speech fights transformed over time to meet the new challenges presented by various forces of repression; but the fights were always anchored in the practice of violating repressive ordinances by speaking on a soapbox. Many of the participants were arrested and barricaded in the bastilles of the American west. Some were beaten, publicly humiliated, killed, or eventually deported. This dissertation explores how the performance of soapbox oratory composed waged and unwaged workers as a class. The study is organized chronologically by date according to the major free speech fights in Spokane, Fresno, San Diego, and Everett. I argue that the hobo orators of the free speech fights demonstrate the significance of the oratorical as a revolutionary practice of class composition. In this regard, the dissertation seeks to reveal lessons about the possibilities of revolutionary unionism today.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2009. Major: Communication Studies. Advisor: Ronald W. Greene. 1 computer file (PDF) 111, 233 pages.
May, Matthew S..
Hobo orator union: the free speech fights of the Industrial Workers of the World, 1909-1916..
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